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LAS VEGAS – A crush of onlookers crowded his path, but Floyd Mayweather Jr. bounded into the ring and glided effortlessly around it. He beamed as he moved, surveying the crush of reporters, photographers, staff members and well-wishers who crowded into his gym a mile or two from where, on May 1 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he'll meet Shane Mosley in the biggest fight of his life.
He'll go into that bout, the 41st of his career since winning a bronze medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the same way he has each of his previous 40: with a zero in the loss column.
He'll make considerably more for this one – upwards of $40 million, if all goes well with the pay-per-view sales – than he did when he turned pro and worked for what he now calls "tip money."
He's gotten to 40-0 – with 25 knockouts – relatively smoothly, with few dangers along the way.
There were many who questioned his readiness to fight the highly respected Genaro Hernandez for the World Boxing Council super welterweight title when he was just 21 and sporting a 17-0 record in 1998. Mayweather answered those questions in resounding fashion, thoroughly dominating Hernandez, a man who had never before lost at 130 pounds, and making him quit after eight one-sided rounds.
His father, the outspoken Floyd Mayweather Sr., was worried about his chances to stave off power-punching Diego Corrales in a 2001 super featherweight bout that would be his first super fight.
Corrales, Mayweather Sr. said, "was very rangy and he could punch. He was dangerous."
But "Little Floyd," as many called him at the time, became a man that night. He walked the tight rope, staying smack in front of the hardest-hitting man in the lower weight classes and turning the tables on him. Mayweather knocked Corrales down five times and stopped him in the 10th.
He fought most of a title defense later that year against gritty veteran Carlos Hernandez with one hand, yet it still wasn't close.
Not many of them have been for Mayweather, who sought a fight with Mosley for years. Not long after he first won a world title, he called Mosley out. In 2006, he offered Mosley a bout but it didn't happen. Mosley, Mayweather added helpfully, wouldn't take the 2006 bout because he "had a toothache."
Mosley has a different memory of the events, but Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, said it's been more than a decade-long pursuit.
"He wanted $10 million to fight me [in 1999]," Mayweather grunted. "They weren't paying that kind of money back then."
The significance of a win over Mosley on May 1 isn't lost on anyone around the Mayweather camp. And while part of it stems from the natural rivalry of two talented, egocentric athletes, it goes beyond that.
Felix Trinidad suffered his first professional loss after opening his career with 40 consecutive wins. So, too, did George Foreman, who was stopped in the eighth round of a 1974 bout in Africa after going 40-0 to start.
More importantly, though, a 41st win will allow Mayweather to surpass the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson, who opened 40-0 before a Feb. 5, 1943, loss to Jake La Motta. Robinson didn't lose again for more than eight years; he was 128-1-2 when he was beaten by Randy Turpin.
"Ray Robinson," said Mayweather's trainer and uncle, Roger Mayweather, "was the greatest fighter to ever put on a pair of gloves."
He's treading in historic territory here, though wins over the likes of Carlos Baldomir and Zab Judah aren't quite the same as Robinson's five wins over a guy like La Motta.
Mayweather is a perfectionist in life, not just in the ring. He largely designed his multi-million-dollar home in Las Vegas by himself and is so anal about keeping things in order that you could go there any time of day or night and never find a thing out of place.
"It's immaculate, all day, every day," Ellerbe said.
He's taken grief for what some perceive as a failure to fight the greatest competition. He was accused of ducking Manny Pacquiao when the two began negotiating a bout at the end of 2009 that would have broken all of boxing's ticket-sale and pay-per-view revenue records.
But the second the Pacquiao fight fell through for good, in a dispute over whether the fighters would agree to random drug testing, Mayweather placed a call to Ellerbe.
It was a short call with a direct request.
"He just said, 'Get me Mosley,' " Ellerbe said.
Much has been made of whether or not there is a rematch clause in the contract (there is), but Ellerbe said Mayweather had no clue.
"Losing is so far from his mind, that's not even the way he thinks," Ellerbe said.
Ellerbe noted that it was he, along with Mayweather adviser Al Haymon, who insisted upon the rematch clause. Mayweather's rights needed to be protected, Ellerbe said, in the event of a fluke occurrence that caused the bout to be stopped. Mayweather could slip on some water, fall and separate a shoulder, Ellerbe pointed out. Any one of a number of odd things could occur that would end the bout prematurely.
"We just made the smart business move and we protected our guy, as we should," Ellerbe said.
Mayweather, though, didn't realize he needed the protection.
"He hired good people to take care of those kinds of things for him," Ellerbe said. "His job is up there."
Ellerbe nodded toward the ring, where Mayweather flicked jabs at an imaginary target.
He's been through the drill many times and knows the significance of what he's about to take place a few weeks hence.
History beckons for Mayweather. He's nearing the end of his career, though Ellerbe vowed Wednesday that before he was through, Mayweather would meet – and defeat – all of the fighters the fans and media want to see him fight.
He wasn't of a mind, though, to talk about a bout with Pacquiao or Paul Williams or anyone but Shane Mosley.
He's pleasant and he smiles, but it's not secret to anyone who has been around Mayweather for any length of time how badly he wanted the Mosley fight and how desperate he is to post a dominant victory.
"Ya'll are talking about 'Shane this,' and 'Shane that,' " Mayweather said. "Don't forget that after the fight. After I win this fight, I don't want to hear, 'Oh, Mosley wasn't really that good.' I don't want to hear that."
If he beats Mosley, he'll quiet many of the critics, but he knows it won't be until long after he's done fighting that he's truly appreciated.
Mayweather is a special talent. He thinks so highly of himself that it's virtually impossible for any fighter to be as good as he believes he is, but there aren't – and haven't been – many like him.
Just going 40-0 hasn't been enough to earn him the kind of respect he so craves. Beating a universally respected fighter like Mosley, though, will do that. And he knows it.
"You're going to see a Floyd Mayweather like you've never seen before," Mayweather said. "This is going to be special."